Today is Father’s Day, a chance for those who are fortunate enough to still have their fathers on the right side of the grass to let them know how grateful they feel. Sadly, for many of us, our fathers have already passed and we can only honor their memory. Even sadder, some had fathers in name only; people who walked out to never come back, or were absent so much they were essentially MIA. Some had fathers who were abusive, and others who just couldn’t share feelings in a meaningful way. We need to learn to forgive the ones who hurt us, for without forgiveness, we can’t stop hurting. I count myself amongst the lucky ones, and in his honor, as well as for all the fathers out there trying to do the best they can with a job for which none of us received an instruction manual, here’s a piece I wrote in prior years, but that remains just as applicable today.
I knew that Father’s Day was a relatively recent invention, but I hadn’t appreciated just how much until a little research uncovered the following facts: The idea is credited to Sonora Dodd, who on hearing a sermon on Mother’s day in 1909 wanted a special day to honor her father, a Civil War veteran who raised his children while working as a single parent. It wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father’s Day, and not until 1972 that President Richard Nixon signed the law which made this a permanent day of celebration.
Anne Sexton wrote in one of her books, “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” I doubt any of us have a very objective assessment of our fathers. As young children, we need them to be strong, protective figures of power in our lives. As adults, we all struggle to reassemble our childhood vision with the necessarily flawed (but at least in my case, always loving) man looking back at us, against whose authority we need to assert our own individual identities.
Fatherhood has gotten the short shrift in our society, and perhaps that is because the role that our culture had created for fathers was not always a very sympathetic one. The stern, often cold, and authoritarian figures depicted in Victorian times mixed with the more recent portraits of men siring then abandoning their offspring may in part be responsible for this phenomenon. I agree that this day ought to celebrate not each man who managed to procreate, but those who have actually done their best at being good fathers.
I’ve written well deserved tributes to my father in this Space before, and I miss his presence in my life on this day, along with the other 364 in the year. Being a father myself now, I have gained a much deeper respect for how difficult and challenging this role can be, as well as how rewarding. I confess that I’ve fallen short on many of the skills fathers are expected to pass on to their sons. My athletic pretensions have been limited, and I’m grateful that my son at least has learned to like hiking and skiing with me. I don’t know how to fix cars, track a deer, or perform home repair without requiring medical attention. Needless to say, my son has been left bereft in these departments. I’m less than enthused about facing danger, and work hard at avoiding confrontation. I’m not the ideal role model of the dads I used to see depicted in Boy’s Life. Despite my many shortcomings, I somehow managed to produce a son who to all appearances has a strong moral core and a kind heart, though he probably would not rate high on aggression, competitiveness or some of the other “manly” traits. I can pride myself on the fact that he’s become independent, self supporting, and happy with the choices he’s made in his life. In this respect, I can answer the question that I asked on this day, “What makes a good father?” My son.